After silence of shock defeat in Punjab, AAP finds its voice again (News Analysis)

Last Updated: Tue, Jun 20, 2017 13:20 hrs

Chandigarh, June 20 (IANS) Although many in the political sphere had written off the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab after it failed to match up to the hype and expectations of winning the assembly elections in Punjab earlier this year, things are turning out to be different.

The party, which virtually went into a shell for a few weeks after the electoral results in early March, is clearly trying to get its act together and is making its presence felt in Punjab's political scene on the ground and in the assembly.

The AAP is making itself heard with a louder voice. This can be seen after the suspension of its lawmaker Sukhpal Singh Khaira and another lawmaker, Simarjeet Singh Bains, of the Lok Insaaf Party, which is an alliance partner of the AAP, from the Punjab assembly for the remainder of the ongoing budget session which is under way.

Both Khaira and Bains are relatively young leaders and quite vocal and aggressive in their demeanor. While Khaira has termed his ouster from the assembly as a "pre-meditated" move by the ruling Congress, Bains has said that the Congress government will not be able to "silence his voice".

Both these leaders, as also other AAP leaders like legislator and lawyer-activist H.S. Phoolka and Punjab AAP president and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, have been politically active and vocal on Punjab's political scene in recent days.

"There is an attempt to muzzle the voice of the AAP legislators. We will not allow that to happen. We will raise all issues which are relevant to the people of Punjab," said Phoolka, AAP leader in the Punjab assembly.

Khaira has been particularly vociferous after a multi-million rupee sand mining scam was "unearthed" recently, alleging involvement of Punjab's senior cabinet minister and millionaire industrialist Rana Gurjit Singh.

The AAP accused the minister, who holds important departments of power and irrigation, of benami transactions in mining and money laundering. Former employees of Rana's companies, including an alleged cook, invested crores of rupees to pick up lucrative mining contracts allotted under the new Punjab government headed by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

Amarinder Singh is hardly amused by the actions of AAP leaders. Last week, he lashed out at the AAP for the "unruly and obnoxious conduct" of its MLAs inside the assembly. Terming it an "unprecedented act amounting to 'Constitutional sacrilege'", Amarinder said: "I have not seen such disrespect being shown to the chair (assembly speaker) in my 50 years in politics."

The party, which emerged as the single largest group in the assembly, with 20 legislators (plus two legislators of the Lok Insaaf Party), after the ruling Congress, is taking its role as the principal opposition party quite seriously. The Shiromani Akali Dal, which ruled Punjab for 10 years (2007-2017), was relegated to a poor third position in the assembly polls.

It was widely speculated that in Punjab the AAP would disintegrate soon, after its shocking defeat. But the party's leadership in the state is trying to project a united face inside and outside the assembly.

Some AAP leaders still have issues on who should be the party leader in Punjab, how much control should the AAP central leadership have on the Punjab unit and also what is the future of the party in the state.

The party which comes from nowhere to wrest decisive power in Delhi has still a long way to go in Punjab. But a beginning has been made.

(Jaideep Sarin can be reached at jaideep.s@ians.in)

--IANS

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